Résumé Rx

You’ve listed all the facts. Did you forget to add personality?

When I first became a headhunter, I scanned one candidate’s résumé and began to ask a few questions:

“What kind of accounts do you most like to work on?” The reply: “It’s in the résumé.”

“Tell me a little bit about yourself.” Again, “It’s in the résumé.”

The rest of the interview continued in the same way, and I found myself thinking that this was a very boring man. In a last-ditch effort, I inquired, “What haven’t I asked you?”

He replied, “It’s all in the résumé.”

Well, no, it wasn’t. And it often isn’t.

Chronology, accounts worked on, previous employers and educational background are facts that can be found in most résumés.

But facts alone do not make a great résumé. After all, a résumé is a sample of you, and unless you leave a fingerprint or some of your DNA, no one will remember you.

A few months ago, I reinterviewed a copywriter—let’s call him Steve—whom I recruited many years ago. I’d gone after him because of a commercial he’d done that had wonderful dialogue.

Through the years, my firm had earned his trust and placed him a number of times. His career grew and grew.

Then he was laid off and came to talk about the next step in his career.

Despite Steve’s writing talent, he had a boring résumé. It looked like everyone else’s. It sounded like everyone else’s, too. He was still a wonderful writer, but there was nothing on his résumé that conveyed his skill.

What would distinguish him? As we began to talk, we came up with the idea of using Steve’s writing skills to tell a story about him. He came back a few days later with the finished product.

“I was born in a brothel in Yokohama,” the résumé began. A true fact, interesting and certainly unforgettable. The back page had a chronological history, which he titled “Steve in 69 words.” The longer version was called “Steve in 1,162 words.”

OK, you say, you aren’t a writer, you’re an art director, and you need to take a different approach. Another candidate I once interviewed—we’ll call him Roger—needed a bio for a big new-business job.

We suggested he write a letter—Dear Susan. That made him comfortable, and the “letter” allowed him to talk about the accounts he’d worked on and the associated problems as well as the solutions. The informality of the form let his humor, wit and charm come through.

The letter began: “Dear Susan, It is far too cold to go outside and play with my Christmas presents, so I will jot down the story of my life to date. If I stick to the facts, it shouldn’t take more than 20 or 30 pages.”

All the key information was included—how many people were in his group, his leadership skills and how his personal life came into play. (He’d planted 1,000 tulip bulbs the weekend before and couldn’t stand up at a new-business meeting. He presented from his seat, and the client gave his shop the business because it thought him so secure about the campaign that he didn’t have to get up and act it out.)

Yes, you say, but for the “suit,” there’s less flexibility. A résumé doesn’t need to be a “dear diary.” It can have bullet points: As you list the clients you’ve worked on, how about adding what you’ve done for them—a campaign line or a growth in sales? New business is your role, so highlight the business you’ve brought in as examples.

Just be sure to leave a little of yourself behind. Do something to stand out. If you are from out of town and need to mail your résumé, send a photo along. Let someone see you. Make it personal.

Also remember:

• Don’t over art-direct your résumé.

• Don’t just e-mail it—at least follow up with a hard copy.

• Don’t try to be too funny, but do try to come across as an individual.

• Do include your interests and skills, including languages you speak.

• Do find a way to mention that you would relocate if needed.

• Do have friends look it over before you present it.

Susan Friedman is the president of Susan Friedman Ltd. She can be reached at (212) 753-3000.